Huggins v. Fedex Ground Package System, Inc.

Decision Date19 January 2010
Docket NumberNo. 09-3144.,09-3144.
Citation592 F.3d 853
PartiesWalter HUGGINS, Appellant, v. FEDEX GROUND PACKAGE SYSTEM, INC.; Teton Transportation, Inc.; Swanston Equipment Company, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Daniel B. Mathis, Kelly J. Curnutt, Arlington, TX, Michelle M. Funkenbusch, St. Louis, MO, argued, for appellant.

Joseph R. Swift, John S. McCollough, Melissa R. Null, Thomas M. Ward, John G. Enright, St. Louis, MO, argued, for appellees.

Before GRUENDER, ARNOLD, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

Esteban Gutierrez was driving a tractor-trailer bearing the insignia of FedEx Ground Package System, while Walter Huggins slept in the back of the truck; Mr. Huggins was injured when Mr. Gutierrez collided with the tractor-trailer in front of him, which Tony Johnston, an employee of Teton Transportation, was driving. Shortly before the collision, as he topped a hill, Mr. Johnston saw a Swanston Equipment pickup truck traveling slowly down the left shoulder of the highway and displaying a sign that read, "Left Lane Closed Ahead." Mr. Johnston slowed his truck, and, when the vehicle immediately in front of him came to a sudden stop, he applied his brakes and stopped about ten feet behind it. The Gutierrez tractor-trailer then collided with the back of the Teton vehicle. Mr. Huggins brought an action in Missouri state court for damages arising out of the collision and Teton removed it to federal district court.

The district court granted summary judgment to Teton and FedEx but denied summary judgment to Swanston. After obtaining an order designating the rulings in favor of Teton and FedEx as final judgments, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b), Mr. Huggins appealed. We dismissed his appeal sua sponte for lack of appellate jurisdiction because of the unresolved claims against Swanston. Huggins v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 566 F.3d 771 (8th Cir. 2009). On remand, the district court granted Mr. Huggins's motion to dismiss his claims against Swanston without prejudice and Mr. Huggins again appealed, challenging the orders granting summary judgment to Teton and FedEx on his negligence claims. We conclude that we have jurisdiction and we affirm the judgment in favor of Teton. But we reverse the judgment in favor of FedEx and remand the case for further proceedings.

I.

In its motion for summary judgment, Teton contended that Mr. Huggins could not make out a negligence claim because he could not show that Teton's alleged negligence was a proximate cause of his injuries. See Teichman v. Potashnick Constr., Inc., 446 S.W.2d 393, 398 (Mo. 1969). (The parties agree that Missouri substantive law applies in this case.) In support of its motion, Teton relied on the part of Mr. Johnston's deposition testimony that described a straightforward rear-end collision: he drove over the hill in the right westbound lane, saw the left-lane closure sign, eventually stopped in that lane, and was hit from behind. Mr. Huggins filed a timely response, relying on another part of Mr. Johnston's account to argue that the Teton driver contributed to the collision by engaging in a "cat-and-mouse game" with Mr. Gutierrez. Mr. Johnston had attested that the two trucks had traveled together for some time before the collision occurred. He had further declared that, during this period, Mr. Gutierrez had tried to pass Mr. Johnston's tractor-trailer about five times and attempted to engage another driver to assist him, but Mr. Johnston did not allow him to pass and once slightly exceeded the speed limit to prevent Mr. Gutierrez from passing him. The district court concluded, however, that under Missouri law these earlier activities could not be a proximate cause of the rear-end collision, and Mr. Huggins does not challenge that determination on appeal.

Mr. Huggins maintains instead that the district court erred by denying his untimely motion to supplement his response to Teton's summary judgment motion. The court, after conferring with the parties, had previously extended its deadline for dispositive motions, including motions for summary judgment, and had ordered the opposing party to file any desired response to a dispositive motion within thirty days after such a motion was filed (thus providing ten more days for filing a response than did the local rules, see E.D. Mo. R. 7-4.01(B) (2006)). After Mr. Huggins filed his timely response to Teton's motion for summary judgment, FedEx filed its response to a summary judgment motion that Mr. Huggins later filed and it attached Mr. Gutierrez's affidavit. In the affidavit, Mr. Gutierrez attested that the Teton truck "cut in front of" him "[i]mmediately prior to the accident," thereby preventing him "from having sufficient stopping distance to avoid the collision." About a week after FedEx filed the affidavit and two weeks after the time ran for responding to Teton's motion, Mr. Huggins moved to supplement the record relevant to Teton's motion by incorporating Mr. Gutierrez's affidavit into his response. Teton, in turn, asked the court either to deny Mr. Huggins's request to supplement the record or to allow Teton additional time to depose Mr. Gutierrez pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(f): Under that rule, a district court may grant time for a party opposing summary judgment to take a deposition if that party "shows by affidavit that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition."

Some three weeks later, Teton and the other defendants moved to continue the trial and to amend the court's case management order, asserting, among other things, that the case had been delayed because of disputes about diversity jurisdiction, that Mr. Huggins had only recently completed his medical treatment, and that the parties were trying to "coordinate a date" for deposing Mr. Gutierrez. The court granted the motion in part, extending discovery and setting a later trial date, but it did not change the deadlines for dispositive motions or for responses to those motions. None of the parties deposed Mr. Gutierrez before the new discovery deadline passed. About a month later, the court denied Mr. Huggins's motion to supplement the record and granted Teton's summary judgment motion. Huggins v. Federal Express Corp., No. 06-CV-01283, 2008 WL 1777438 (E.D.Mo. April 16, 2008). Though the court acknowledged the "potential significance of Gutierrez's testimony," it declined to consider the affidavit because Mr. Huggins obtained it after what was then the deadline for discovery, as well as the deadline for filing dispositive motions, had passed. The court explained that it "appear[ed] that Plaintiff opted against timely interviewing, deposing, and/or securing the affidavit of, Gutierrez," and that Mr. Huggins should "not be permitted to take unfair advantage of the presumably accessible, subject evidence — presented by FedEx after the close of discovery." In support of its conclusion that the evidence had been accessible, the court cited Rule 56(f), on which Mr. Huggins could have relied if the evidence had been unavailable to him. Huggins, 2008 WL 1777438 at *3 n. 2.

Although Rule 56 provides deadlines for filing summary judgment materials, the district courts have broad discretion to manage their dockets and address particular circumstances by enforcing local rules and by setting enforceable time limits. See Reasonover v. St. Louis County, Mo., 447 F.3d 569, 579 (8th Cir.2006); see also Sipe v. Workhorse Custom Chassis, LLC, 572 F.3d 525, 531-32 (8th Cir.2009). Here, Mr. Huggins does not dispute that he moved to supplement the summary judgment record two weeks after his response to Teton's summary judgment motion was due, and after he had already filed a timely response without indicating any need for additional time.

Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(1), "[w]hen an act may or must be done within a specified time, the court may, for good cause, extend the time ... on motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect." The district court has discretion to admit or exclude materials under this rule, and its "refusal to accept untimely filed materials will not be reversed for an abuse of discretion unless the proponent of the materials has made an affirmative showing of excusable neglect." African American Voting Rights Legal Def. Fund, Inc. v. Villa, 54 F.3d 1345, 1350 (8th Cir.1995) (citing Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 894-98, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990)), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1113, 116 S.Ct. 913, 133 L.Ed.2d 844 (1996); see also DG&G, Inc. v. FlexSol Packaging Corp. of Pompano Beach, 576 F.3d 820, 826 (8th Cir.2009). We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion here because Mr. Huggins failed to make an "affirmative showing of excusable neglect."

Interpreting the term "excusable neglect" in a bankruptcy rule derived from Rule 6(b), the Supreme Court has held that "neglect" does not require a showing that the party was without fault but encompasses "inadvertence, mistake, or carelessness," though the neglect will not necessarily be "excusable." Pioneer Inv. Services Co. v. Brunswick Associates Ltd. Partnership, 507 U.S. 380, 388, 391, 113 S.Ct. 1489, 123 L.Ed.2d 74 (1993); see Noah v. Bond Cold Storage, 408 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir.2005). But the untimeliness here was not the result of mistake or carelessness. As Mr. Huggins's counsel confirmed at oral argument, he consciously elected not to depose Mr. Gutierrez for strategic reasons: On hearing Mr. Johnston attest that Mr. Gutierrez, after repeatedly trying to pass him, had been angrily cursing at Mr. Johnston over his CB radio shortly before he slammed into the back of the Mr. Johnston's truck, Mr. Huggins's attorney decided not to preserve Mr. Gutierrez's testimony. Since Mr. Gutierrez had relocated to Hawaii, Mr. Huggins's counsel reasoned that FedEx might have difficulty producing him at...

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